07 May 2010

So I find myself back in Rwanda as a designer, observer, learner, muzungu, and traveler. It is all at once familiar and foreign. And all so very good. I am learning much because as per usual, I am working on something that hosts a steep learning curve. Here is the essence:

I am collaborating with a professor of international nutrition from UBC and we are here investigating various opportunities to see if they can be applied as appropriate and effective interventions for the future. The aims of the project are multifaceted. In order to address this complexity, we are meeting with key stakeholders and leaders, such as the Minister of Health, the Director General of the Rwanda Horticulture Development Authority, Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute and various others in the Ministry of Agriculture. There are more meetings to come! We are also set to meet with individuals from nutrition and health communications. We do this to ensure that we contribute to the tools already developed and complement, rather than contradict their efforts.

In the simplest terms, we are looking at the relationship between agricultural improvement/growth and nutritional impact in rural communities.

As the designer on the team, I am aiming to understand health messaging: how to do it appropriately and effectively with the ultimate goal of developing tools for behavior change and adoption in this diverse and cross-cultural context.

One of the focuses of my work will be to consider how I can apply the HCD Toolkit and related methods by adapting it to suit some of the quantitative approaches used by my colleagues. I am looking forward to sharing these ideas with those outside the field of design and seeing how they can be used to assess the community needs and aspirations (while also providing a framework for successful implementation). I am also keen to learn about their methods in order to ensure a robust and valid outcome that can be measured in their respective disciplines.

Using these methods and approaches, I am aiming to develop solutions for messaging a micronutrient to the mothers of infants/young children aged 6 mos – 2 years (who are not included in typical targets when addressing malnutrition). This messaging will run the gamut: from packaging and promotion to distribution and impact assessment (as the framework for a home-based food fortification program). From here, we are also considering how to incorporate a larger integrated approach into the current approaches to agricultural growth and nutrition impact evaluation. We’re in the formative stages but are excited about the potential (and enthusiasm from those we’ve encountered so far).

Of note is the response I get when I say, “I’m a designer.” The Minister was surprised that an art and design school could exist in an exclusive institution. The head of the research institute wanted to put me to work in their office immediately! These responses are notable because there are no design schools in Rwanda (and yet everyone acknowledges and appreciates the value of communication). Because of this, I look forward to the day I might find myself teaching courses to Rwandans that will enable them to develop these tools and messages. And as a result, I get to learn much from them when it comes to designing outside one's own borders.

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